Shalom Life | April 21, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Craig Schatten Makes an 'Alien Assignment'

Schatten discusses his new app that allows young kids to have fun while learning and bonding with their parents.

By: R.S. Bailey

Published: September 17th, 2012 in Culture » Society » Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Craig Schatten Makes an 'Alien Assignment'

A few years ago, Craig Schatten was pitching an idea for a kid’s TV series to Alice Cahn at the Cartoon Network. The series didn’t go, but a while later she suggested he apply for a fellowship from the Fred Roger’s Foundation. That’s the same Fred Rogers who hosted Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. He applied and got the fellowship. The result is Alien Assignment, a free application for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad which he developed for kids 3 to 5 years old, as a game they can share with grown ups.

Schatten explains, “The Rogers’ Center specializes in teaching parents and kids about media literacy, what makes quality media, and getting parent and kids interacting together around media. They are leaders in the co-play movement in gaming.”

The fellowship gave him some choices about what to pursue. “I knew I wanted to do something with a camera and kids taking pictures.”

Alien Assignment has become a big hit with parents and kids. It allows the child to use the camera function of the iDevice, take a photo, share it with their grown up, who approves the photo, and then go off on the next assignment. It’s a simple, ingenious concept.

The game is based around a friendly, alien family, the Gloops, who have had a forced landing on Earth and need help to repair their spaceship. Glop and Gleep, the son and daughter, are sent out to find supplies to repair the ship. They enlist the help of kids and grown ups by giving clues to help find what they need. The game is meant to be played around the home so the search is for household items.

Craig is animated when he explains how the app works and you can tell this is something he really enjoyed doing. “The concept is the more you interact with your children, the more scaffolding you do and the more they’re going to learn. The goal is to improve literacy.

“Some clues are meant to be open ended; things like ‘something cold,’ ‘something blue,’ ‘something you use when it rains,’ something that ‘turns,’ ‘rolls,’ or ‘points’. Other clues are meant to develop new concepts in vocabulary like ‘Something that holds liquid.’ There are clues like that are meant to be specific like ‘a doorknob’ and ‘a light switch’. They are all designed so all kids can feel success and be involved with their parents. The parents can set the game to search for four to twenty objects.”

When asked what he liked most about the process of developing the application, he doesn’t hesitate in answering. “It was thrilling to be involved with the creative team. I drew character designs and gave them to artists who developed them and did storyboards. I gave a list of 10 songs and musical references I liked to a composer, another fellowship guy, and he did the music. I was the Creative Producing Director. My wife Jennifer and I did the voices for the app in my home studio. I had final say on creative decisions. It was wonderful, the Rogers’ Foundation gave me creative control and a great team.”

When asked why he chose the 3 to 5 year old age group he replied, “I’ve always loved children, even when I was a little, I liked little kids. I always loved watching trusting, innocent, kind kids playing and being imaginative. I was fascinated by how they would communicate with each other and how they were like pieces of a puzzle in their families’ lives. I speak their language.”

Obviously, Craig Schatten is no stranger to communicating with young children. He has a Master’s Degree from NYU in Early Childhood Development and spends a lot of time with 5 year olds. He’s just started his 9th year as a kindergarten teacher at New York’s Calhoun School.

Alien Assignment has been garnering four out of four, and five out of five star reviews from publications and parents alike. Craig points out that you will need wifi to download it in a timely manner. Everything you need to get Alien Assignment for free is available here.

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